As the title suggests, a movie about Australia. So much, that it starred Australians, was shot in Australia, and was directed by an Australian. Hugh Jackman, one of the stars, even joked when he opened the 2009 Oscars, where Kate Winslet and Robert Downey Jr were both nominated for their range in acting; “I’m an Australian, playing an Australian, in a movie called Australia, hosting.” [He then goes into an entire song and dance number, because that’s how he got his start, though he ended by stating “I am Wolverine!”] Hugh Jackman’s character is only known as the Drover. Nicole Kidman (her parents are Australian) plays Lady Sarah Ashley (she worked with director Baz Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge). David Wenham (Faramir in Lord of the Rings, shot in New Zealand; he was also in 300, and worked alongside Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing) is Neil Feltcher. The film spans a six-year time frame, starting in September of 1939 and concludes during Japan’s attack on Northern Australia after they hit Pearl Harbor December of 1945. There is a note at the beginning of the film to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island viewers in deference to their culture, and explaining that this was a time where Aboriginal children of mixed race were taken from their families and “trained for service in white society.” “These children became known as the Stolen Generations.”
To be honest, the main reason I wanted to watch this movie is the fact that Hugh Jackman is in it. Throw in a bit of history and I’m intrigued. After the opening notes, the movie begins with an Aboriginal boy witnessing the murder of a white man. The boy is fearful of coppers (police) taking him to Mission Island. But then, the boss lady arrives. The boss lady is Lady Sarah Ashley who flies from England to the Northern Territory of Australia to force her husband to sell the Faraway Downs property. She meets the Drover, while he’s in the middle of a bar fight. It’s a rocky start for them, difference in culture and all that. He shock her on their travels the first night by bathing [yep, like that scene], then commenting they all huddle up in the one tent for warmth. Truth is, the men are more used to sleeping under the stars. But the Drover takes Lady Ashley to Faraway Downs (which is what the boy sees before he hides), and they discover that the man who had been killed was her husband. Lord Ashley is the only one to stand up to the Carney cattle monopoly in the area, though his death is blamed on an Aboriginal leader, King George (the boy’s grandfather).
The boy, Nullah, appears to Lady Ashley and reveals that she cannot trust the manager, Mr. Fletcher. Partly because Neil Fletcher is his father. Which wouldn’t sit too well with his fiancée’s family, the Carneys. Nullah proves Fletcher a liar and when caught, Fletcher starts hitting the boy. Sarah steps in and fires Neil. Drover isn’t happy when he comes around; Lord Ashley had promised him a drove (driving cattle) and rights to breed an outback brumby with an English thoroughbred. Sarah insists that everyone left on the ranch can pull together and make the drove. Faraway Downs is competing against the Carneys for an Army contract. The accountant of the ranch, when he’s sober, reveals to Sarah that Fletcher had been siphoning off the best cattle to Carney land; that is what her husband had been investigating when he had been killed.
The actual police arrive the next day, setting Nullah and his mother to hide in the water tower. Sadly, the mother drowns before the police leave. Drover sends Sarah to comfort Nullah; she admits she’s not great with children, but tries to cheer him up by recounting the recent film, The Wizard of Oz, and attempting to sing the main song Somewhere Over the Rainbow [I am odd and not fond of the film or the song (it’s overplayed)]. Nullah likes the idea of dreaming and wishing; songs are important to the Aboriginals. The drove is back on the next morning. But Fletcher isn’t finished; he and his men set a fire to spook the cattle and drive them off a cliff. Nullah stands firm at the edge and halts the cattle, after the accountant (Kipling Flynn) is trampled to death. There is a rather tender scene of both Drover and Sarah diving after Nullah before he passes out over the edge. Tender moments start cropping up between Sarah and the Drover, even a kiss after they get tipsy in memory of Kipling. Drover admits he was married previously, to an Aboriginal woman. She got sick and died because the hospital wouldn’t treat her.
Fletcher’s at it again; he poisons the drinking holes along their way. Their only option is the wasteland known as Never Never Land. But King George offers to lead them. News is reported that they all die. The Army is about to sign a contract with Carney for their cattle…until there is a disturbance in town. Sarah and her people survived and there is a race to load the cattle. Drover gets in front and blocks Carney’s cattle. Nullah sums up that everyone gets what they want; everyone happy. Except him, because he is half-caste and doesn’t belong anywhere. Well, his friends disguise him so he looks fully Aboriginal and sneak him in to see The Wizard of Oz.
Meanwhile, there is a ball for the upper class to donate money to Mission Island. Sarah tries to argue to keep Nullah; the priest insists that Aboriginal women forget their children, she retorts no mother forgets her child and points out that the fathers of the mixed race children are in the room. The high society women start looking down on her, though Kaitlin Carney is sympathetic (she is “King” Carney’s daughter, and engaged to Neil Fletcher). “King” Carney wins the auction to dance with Lady Ashley and they discuss the sale of Faraway Downs. Sarah informs him of Neil’s involvement in her husband’s death and she is almost ready to sell when a cleaned up Drover enters the ball. He had already turned down her offer to be the new manager of Faraway Downs, insisting he doesn’t mix with the upper class. But he has apparently changed his mind and Sarah is willing to give Northern Australian society something to talk about. They run off after a dance and the rain comes. Their relationship really takes off [yep, another one of those scenes I love and reminds me why I watch the movie]. With the rain, Faraway Downs is like an island; Drover, Sarah, and Nullah can be a little family. Drover leaves again to go droving once the wet is over, but he comes back.
Everything is idyllic for a few years, until Neil leads Carney into an alligator attack and takes over the business. He then returns to Faraway Downs, intent on buying; it was his family that worked it for generations for the Ashley family. And a big drove comes in for Drover, and Nullah wants to go on walkabout to become a man. Drover leaves, hurting Sarah. And then Nullah is taken. Katey Carney, now Fletcher, begs her husband to help. He strikes a deal, Sarah will work for the war effort, he’ll buy Faraway Downs, and then he’ll get Nullah back.
Then the Japanese attack. Drover, after being called out for being scared to get close to Sarah, returns to town, only to find it destroyed. Sarah is believed to be dead. Drover knows he has to get Nullah, Mission Island is where the radio tower is and is sure to have been hit. The boys on the island did survive. And so did Sarah; it was Katey Fletcher who died in her place. Just as Drover, Nullah, and Sarah are about to be happily reunited, Fletcher aims a gun at them. A shot goes off and Nullah drops, but so does Fletcher. King George escaped prison and saved his grandson. Nullah is fine and they return to Faraway Downs. Sarah lets him go on walkabout. The film ends with another note. The Australian government ended the assimilation program in 1973 (that’s another twenty-eight years after the events of the movie) and in 2008, the Prime Minister officially apologized to the Stolen Generations.
This film is long. It honestly could have been cut down into two movies for it tells almost two different stories. There is the action/adventure plot of the first half, driving the cattle to town. Then there’s the war part, which could have been expanded for it holds most of the character depth. I like the family group that Sarah, Drover, and Nullah become without meaning to. They all need family and end up blending well with each other. We see how far the Drover has come throughout the film, first being annoyed by Lady Ashley, to loving her, to leaving, then being heartbroken when he believes she’s dead. Nullah is a sweet child, and Sarah Ashley’s character softens throughout the film, though she is still strong and determined. Parts of the movie drag and I tend to just fast forward to the bits I like. It is interesting to see how other places in the world were affected by the Second World War.
I much prefer some other movies to this, especially for some of the actors; David Wenham is much nicer as Faramir. Hugh Jackman is a good leading man and he did well opposite Nicole Kidman, but I think we see a larger range for her in Moulin Rouge. Not the most romantic role for Hugh, we’ll get to some of those later.
Up Next: Kate and Leopold